The New Procurator General and his first 70 days of Impunity

Domingo 29 de marzo de 2009, por Prensa - Colectivo

The Office of the Procurator General (Procuraduría General de la Nación) was established as an institution with the mission of fighting against corruption, defending, guaranteeing and protecting human rights, and safeguarding the rights and interests of citizens and public assets. It was also invested with functions to prevent, investigate and punish public servants engaging in disciplinary breaches. Nonetheless, the first 70 days of office of the new Procurator General, Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, could not present a more discouraging panorama with respect to human rights and the fight against impunity.

The Office of the Procurator General (Procuraduría General de la Nación) was established as an institution with the mission of fighting against corruption, defending, guaranteeing and protecting human rights, and safeguarding the rights and interests of citizens and public assets. It was also invested with functions to prevent, investigate and punish public servants engaging in disciplinary breaches. Nonetheless, the first 70 days of office of the new Procurator General, Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, could not present a more discouraging panorama with respect to human rights and the fight against impunity.

For instance, on December 11, 2008, after being almost unanimously elected by the full senate as the new Procurator General, Congress members Gloria Inés Ramírez, Luís Carlos Avellaneda and Jorge Enrique Robledo were the only members of congress not to vote for Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado as the new Procurator General. [1] Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado stated he would present a legislative bill so the Office of the Procurator General would cease to conduct disciplinary investigations of members of congress. “[I]t is a monstrosity that delegitimizes the exercise of the functions of the Procurator General,” Mr. Ordóñez asserted at the time. [2] Indeed, he would not have few investigations to conduct. According to a report presented by the Public Ministry the day before the new Procurator General took office, 116 investigations are presently being conducted against persons due to their alleged ties with paramilitarism, 23 formal indictments have been raised, and seven judgments of first instance have been issued. [3]

On January 15, 2009, the very day he took office as the new Procurator General, Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado spoke again on the investigations being carried out against members of congress: “The present structure for the procurator general to discipline those who appointed him is not feasible.” At the same time, he suggested the Council of State should assume the investigation of these cases. [4] The president of the Council of State, Enrique Gil Botero, dismissed this possibility when he stated: “It is not convenient to adjudicate a new competence such as this, since we already have a high amount of backlog. Therefore, taking on this function would contribute to the problem. [...] I do not believe Procurator General Maya, or his predecessors, had any incompatibility with investigating members of congress. In this respect, I do not see why this has to change. [5]

Evidently, Procurator General Ordóñez will not delay in carrying out these statements –with or without the proposed amendment-, and not only with respect to members of congress, but also military members and other senior public officials. A few weeks ago the Office of the Procurator General ruled in favor of former senator Carlos García Orjuela (former president of the pro-government Social National Unity Party, Department of Tolima) and retired General Rito Alejo del Río Rojas.

With respect to General Rito Alejo del Río, this past February 4 the Office of the Procurator General deemed no evidence existed that implicated the retired general in the homicide of Marino López Mena [6] and only maintained the charge of conspiracy to commit a crime. [7] Nonetheless, on March 3, 2009, the Office of the Attorney General confirmed the charges he faced as the alleged responsible party in the crime of homicide of a protected person. [8]

On the same February 4, the Office of the Procurator General also requested the Office of the Attorney General to close the investigation of former senator Carlos García Orjuela, as it dismissed the creditability of the testimony provided by members of paramilitary structures. [9] It should be noted that only two days later –based on some of the same testimony- the Supreme Court of Justice opened a preliminary investigation against representative Jaime Armando Yepes Martínez (Social National Unity Party, Department of Tolima), who is a political ally of former senator García Orjuela. [10] Furthermore, on February 19, 2009, a former paramilitary, Ricaurte Soria Ortiz, who is one of the witnesses in the case against former senator García Orjuela, reasserted the veracity of his testimony. [11] On February 25, 2009, a deputy prosecutor before the Supreme Court of Justice issued an indictment against the former senator, [12] as it was determined there was sufficient evidence to implicate him with paramilitarism. [13]

It should be remembered that on August 19, 2008, then senator García Orjuela renounced his immunity against prosecution as a member of congress as a way to avoid the competency of the Supreme Court and have the criminal investigation sent to the ordinary justice system. [14] The strategy of resigning from a congressional seat has been widely implemented by representatives and senators. According to follow-up carried out by the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, from November 2006 up to now at least 33 parliamentarians –who are under investigation for their ties with paramilitarism- have renounced their immunity against prosecution as members of congress. [15] The case of former president of the Senate Luís Humberto Gómez Gallo (Conservative Party, Department of Tolima) demonstrated this when on August 12, 2008, the Office of the Attorney General allowed the charges to expire [16] at the same time the investigation was closed, [17] when it dismissed the testimony a paramilitary provided against the former senator (and did not recognize that the inconsistencies to his testimony were due to the alleged death threats he faced if he testified in the case). [18]

After these actions were broadly criticized by different sectors of society, the Office of the Procurator General made new pronouncements on the responsibility of senior public servants in criminal conduct when it acquitted former Minister of Interior and Justice and current Ambassador for Colombia in Italy, Sabas Pretelt de la Vega, and current Minister of Social Protection, Diego Palacios Betancourt, [19] in the case known as ‘Yidispolitics,’ [20] who are under investigation for their alleged irregularities in the passage of the constitutional reform that allowed presidential reelections. The measure also covered former deputy minister of Interior and Justice Hernán Angarita, former director of the DAS Jorge Noguera Cotes, and former Superintendent of Notary and Registration José Félix Lafaurie. This decision by the Office of the Procurator General runs counter to the ruling issued by the Supreme Court of Justice against former congress member Teolindo Avendaño Castellanos for the crimes of bribery and personal illicit enrichment. [21]

The events over these 70 days since the new procurator general took office indicate that public servants currently investigated for their ties to paramilitarism –and for being the presumed intellectual authors of crimes against humanity committed under the paramilitary strategy- have a new instrument of impunity available to them under the form of Procurator General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado.

Endnotes

Notas

[1According to congress members Luis Carlos Avellaneda and Jorge Enrique Robledo, “[o]ur position is based on that the political concepts of Alejandro Ordóñez lead him to persecute those who do not think as he does, to violate fundamental legal rules of the Constitution, and gravely contradict the platform of the [Alternative Democratic Pole Party]. […] We also motivated by the fact that Alejandro Ordóñez, as a Magistrate of the Council of State, did not consider it incompatible, with the consequence of losing one’s congressional seat, that a member of congress who signed the well known Pact of Ralito would have voted for the Justice and Peace Law.” (See: Por qué no votamos por Alejandro Ordoñez. Alternative Democratic Pole, December 11, 2008, http://www.polodemocratico.net/Por-que-no-votamos-por-Alejandro).

[2There could be other manners. This was chosen at the constituent [assembly], but it could be improved or a new [procedure] could be implemented. I think the present method is not as bad as they say, or as good as should be desired,” assured Mr. Ordoñez at the time. (See: “Procuraduría debe dejar de vigilar a los congresistas”. El País, Colprensa, December 12, 2008, http://www.elpais.com.co/paisonline/notas/Diciembre122008/nal7.html).

[3Procuraduría asegura no estar rezagada en "grandes procesos". El Espectador, January 14, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/node/107600.

[4Consejo de Estado debe asumir investigación de congresistas, dijo el nuevo Procurador. El Tiempo, January 15, 2009, http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/politica/consejo-de-estado-debe-asumir-investigacion-de-congresistas-dijo-el-nuevo-procurador_4756087-1.

[5Presidente del Consejo de Estado rechaza proyecto de reforma del procurador. Nancy Torres, CM&, January 16, 2009, http://www.cmi.com.co/Contenido/Noticia.asp?nota=24183&seccion=8.

[6Marino López Mena, a peasant from Riosucio, Chocó, was murdered by paramilitaries operating jointly with the military on February 27, 1997. In the much-talked-about case, witness testimony describes such cruelty as playing football with his head. At the time of the acts, Del Río Rojas was commander of the XVII Army Brigade based in Carepa, Antioquia. (See: Carta a la Fiscalía del SJ Javier Girando. Javier Giraldo Moreno S. J., March 16, 2009, http://www.movimientodevictimas.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=260&Itemid=41).

[7Procuraduría pide no condenar a Rito Alejo del Rio por asesinato de campesino. Verdadabierta.com, February 4, 2009, http://www.verdadabierta.com/web3/noticias/54-generales/843-procuraduria-aclara-informacion-sobre-caso-del-general-r-rito-alejo-del-rio; PGN realiza aclaraciones en procesos de Rito Alejo del Río. Office of the Procurator General, February 13, 2009, http://www.procuraduria.gov.co/html/noticias_2009/noticias_037.htm.

[8Confirman acusación contra General (r) Rito Alejo del Río. Office of the Attorney General, March 3, 2009, http://www.fiscalia.gov.co/PAG/DIVULGA/noticias2009/DH/DhSiRitoAlejoMar03.htm.

[9Precluir investigación contra el ex senador Carlos García Orjuela pidió la Procuraduría. El Tiempo, February 4, 2009, http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/precluir-investigacion-contra-el-ex-senador-carlos-garcia-orjuela-pidio-la-procuraduria_4793574-1.

[10Corte abre investigación preliminar a Jaime Yepes. El Espectador, February 6, 2009, http://www.elespectador.com/tolima/articulo115510-corte-abre-investigacion-preliminar-jaime-yepes.

[11The former finance chief of the Tolima Bloc [Ricaurte Soria Ortiz] assured the meeting in which he provided security detail for his commander took place at the La Chamba rural community in the municipality of Guamo and that an emissary of Carlos Castaño known as ‘Político’ was present at this meeting. [...] ‘He knew that he met with commander Elías and Político. He will tell the truth, as long as there are no threats, he is going to tell the truth.’ He also rejected the argument by the Procurator General’s Office, which claimed the meeting did not have any compensation. ‘We did not need this senator to help us directly with money, we needed him to submit projects to the department and this was the agreement reached with the [senator].’” (See: Paramilitar dice que no le pagaron por declarar contra Carlos García. Noticias Uno, February 19, 2009, http://www.noticiasuno.com/noticias/testigo-carlos-garcia-.html).

[12A juicio ex presidente del Congreso de la República. Office of the Attorney General, February 25, 2009, http://www.fiscalia.gov.co/PAG/DIVULGA/noticias2009/UdCSJ/UdCSJCGarciaFeb25.htm.

[13Llaman a juicio a García Orjuela por parapolítica. El Nuevo Siglo, February 26, 2009, http://www.elnuevosiglo.com.co/noticia.php.

[14Renuncian a sus curules Carlos García y Guillermo Gaviria. El Espectador, August 19, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/articulo-renuncian-sus-curules-carlos-garcia-y-guillermo-gaviria.

[15Namely: Alfonso López, Héctor Julio; Almario Rojas, Luís Fernando; Ángel Barco, Enrique Emilio; Araújo Castro, Álvaro; Avendaño Lopera, Pompilio de Jesús; Blel Saad, Vicente; Builes Correa, Humberto; Caballero Caballero, Jorge Luís; Campo Escobar, Alfonso Antonio; Castro Pacheco, Jorge Luís; Char Navas, David; Cuello Baute, Alfredo; De la Espriella Burgos, Miguel Alfonso; García Angarita, Gonzalo; García Orjuela, Carlos Armando; García Romero, Álvaro; Gaviria Zapata, Guillermo León; Gil Castillo, Luís Alberto; Gómez Gallo, Luís Humberto; Gutiérrez Jaramillo, Adriana Patricia; Herrera Cely, José Manuel; Maloof Cuse, Dieb Nicolás; Merlano Fernández, Jairo Enrique; Montes Medina, William Alfonso; Morón Cuello, Álvaro; Pinedo Vidal, Miguel; Quintero Villada, Ruben Darío; Ramírez Pinzón, Ciro; Riaño Castillo, Alfonso; Tapasco Triviño, Dixon Ferney; Torres Rueda, Luís Carlos; Uribe Escobar, Mario; and Wilchez Carreño, Óscar Leonidas.

[16La pruebas ácidas de la parapolítica. Semana Magazine, August 21, 2008, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=114665.

[17Cierran investigación contra Luis Humberto Gómez Gallo. El Espectador, August 12, 2008, http://www.elespectador.com/articulo-cierran-investigacion-contra-luis-alberto-gomez-gallo.

[18¿Se acaba la para-política?. Semana Magazine, August 18, 2008, http://www.semana.com/wf_InfoArticulo.aspx?idArt=114759.

[19Sabas Pretelt y Diego Palacio, absueltos por la "Yidispolítica". El País, Colprensa, March 17, 2009, http://www.elpais.com.co/paisonline/notas/Marzo172009/nal4.html.

[20The reelection of President Uribe was made possible by a constitutional reform carried out through the commission of criminal acts (such as the purchasing of congressional votes), which altered the balance of power, given the presidential authority to appoint names for the election of magistrates to the Constitutional Court, the Attorney General of the Nation, the Disciplinary Jurisdiction Chamber of the Superior Council of the Judicature, the Procurator General, and the Human Rights Ombudsman.” (See: Report for the Universal Periodic Review on Colombia. Colombian peace and human rights coalitions, July 2008, www.plataforma-colombiana.org/plataforma/docs/Informe-final-para-el-EPU_Colombia.pdf). (See also: Extraordinary Remedy of Review against the Ruling C-1040 of October 19, 2005. José Antonio Rodríguez Peña, et al, July 2, 2008, http://www.colectivodeabogados.org/spip.php?article1356).

[21In the ruling issued against former congress member Teolindo Avendaño Castellanos, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice officially sent copies of the judgment to the Office of the Attorney General so investigations would be initiated against Ambassador Sabas Pretelt de la Vega and Minister Diego Palacios Betancourt. (See: Caso contra Teolindo Avendaño Castellanos. Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, Single instance 29705, September 9, 2009).

Afiliaciones

Afiliado a la Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos
y la Organización Mundial contra la Tortura
Estatus Consultivo en la OEA

José Alvear Restrepo

Nace en Medellín el 1 de julio de 1913 en el seno de una familia de profundas convicciones religiosas y bajo los parámetros de la ideología del partido conservador. Realiza sus estudios en la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Antioquia, donde se gradúa de Abogado con una brillante tesis titulada: "Conflictos del trabajo: la huelga"

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